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Sinéad D’Arcy

What to expect at assessment centre

The written for publication in the UCD Career Guide by Sinéad D’Arcy who heads up our International Graduate Programme. We always get asked about what to expect at assessment centre and this piece aims to give you an insight into the structure of assessment centres and the skills, behaviours and attitudes that lead to success.

So, after you’ve completed your online application form to apply for a graduate programme, what next? If you are successful in being called to interview it’s likely that interview will form part of an assessment centre. Research suggests that assessment centres are one of the most effective and reliable methods to recruit ‘best fit’ candidates as it allow employers to assess candidates through a variety of activities.

What to expect?

Assessment Centre activities could range from presentations, group work, case studies, in-tray exercises, role plays and either individual or panel interviews. Assessment centres can range from a half day to two days in length and in addition to assessments can also include social activities.

Knowing what to expect and being well prepared will help you to perform well. Find out from the employer what the format is, research the role well, and pay close attention to the skills and attributes outlined in the job description. Remember the clues to the competencies you will be assessed on are all in the job description!

Throughout the day an assessor will be keeping an eye on your performance in each exercise and this will be assessed against a checklist of the key competencies (abilities and attributes) necessary for the job. In their communication to you pre-assessment centre an employer should highlight the competencies they will assess in each activity but if they don't you can easily identify which competencies are likely to be assessed by reviewing the job description. The following are the types of competencies that can be assessed:

  • Critical thinking
  • Innovative thinking
  • Decision making
  • Interpersonal skills and teamwork
  • Leadership
  • Numeracy
  • Organisation and time management

Assessors are normally from the companies HR team or hiring managers from the departments you are interviewing for.

What is the etiquette for assessment centres?

It is important to be professional at all times. In fact, candidates should behave like employees of the company they are being assessed by. The first way you can demonstrate this is by arriving on time. It may seem like an obvious point to make but you’d be surprised how many don’t! Another way of doing this is by taking ownership of your own day by knowing what time each activity is taking place and what group you are in for each activity.

There will be lunch and coffee breaks, during which you'll have the opportunity to talk to various team members, including the current graduate intake and your assessors. Introduce yourself; be polite and confident, look people in the eye and shake hands. Listen to what others say and take this opportunity to ask questions about the role, the team and the company culture.

During assessments assessors want to see how you react to and get on with other people. Although it is good to show that you are competitive, remember that your assessors are primarily interested in seeing evidence of teamwork, communication and leadership skills. It is important to remember that some of the people you meet on assessment day could be your future colleagues. All, several, one or none of your assessment group may be hired. You need to perform to a very high standard at an assessment centre, but you do not need to challenge, compete or disagree with other candidates. In fact, it may harm your assessors' opinion of you if you do.

Assessors are looking to get to know the real you. Therefore, if you can relax sufficiently to let your personality shine through and to let something of your unique individuality be seen the assessors are more likely to warm to you. Remember, assessment centres work both ways and are just as much about the employers assessing if you are a fit for their company and the role they are offering as it is about you assessing if the company and the role are for you! Whatever the outcome of an assessment centre you can be sure that the experience will have thought you a lot about the company and even more about yourself.

Let’s hear from some graduates who have been through assessment centre

As part of our selection process for the Jameson International Graduate Programme we hold two rounds of assessment each year. ROUND 1, a full day assessment centre, aims to assess candidates fit for our company, for our brand and for the role of Brand Ambassador. ROUND 2 aims to assess candidates fit for the international markets available each year.

We invite over 130 candidates to ROUND 1 (30+ candidates per day) and over 60 candidates typically make it through to ROUND 2. We then hire between 25-35 candidates annually.

Cathal Daly, Jameson Brand Ambassador in Kinshasa, DRC and UCD graduate of Commerce International with French has the following to say about his experience of the Jameson International Graduate Programme assessment centres:

"The thing that struck me most about the assessment centre for Jameson was the variety of the candidates. I had already done a few assessment centres before and they were full of people from a business background like myself. The Jameson assessment centre was a compete melting pot of people from different courses from Drama to Psychology, Physiotherapy to Languages and this really added to the overall experience as areas such as the group work task were that much more multi-dimensional.

The day itself is a mix of nerves, excitement and tiredness all fueled by a lot of tea and coffee. On the day the first candidate I ran into was an old school friend who I’d lost touch with when we went to college. We both ended up getting the job and roomed together for the five weeks of training before flying off to market!"

Tendai O'Connor, Jameson Brand Ambassador in Mozambique joined the programme is July 2016 and is a UCD graduate of Food and Agribusiness Management. Tendai has the following insights from assessment centre:

"I believe that my journey as a Jameson Brand Ambassador started at Assessment Centre. Prior to assessment day I was extremely nervous of what was to come, but on the day, once I realised that everyone else was in the same boat, I was much more relaxed. The environment created by the managers and the team I met in Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard was friendly and open. No question was too big or too small. This gave me a real insight into the company culture and made me want a place on the programme even more."

Best of luck to the candidates attending assessment centre for the Jameson Graduate Programme or any other graduate programme this year.